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Author Topic: The Mystical Oak Tree - Paul “Hawken” Wilburn  (Read 2637 times)

Offline Terry_Green

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The Mystical Oak Tree - Paul “Hawken” Wilburn
« on: November 09, 2004, 04:25:00 PM »
The Mystical Oak Tree
By: Paul “Hawken” Wilburn

The 2003 fall hunting season is when it all finally started to come together for me.  You see, I didn’t come from a “hunting” family, and even through my early twenties I couldn’t count one hunter among my friends and associates.  So when I decided to try hunting, a few years after becoming a longbow archer, I was completely on my own.

I started by reading every book and article I could on hunting various game animals in Michigan, especially whitetails.  Then I took the required, and in my case extremely beneficial, hunter safety course.  I also spent countless hours watching all of the weekend hunting programs on T.V. to learn as much as I could. This was all, of course, followed by years of paying dues in the real classroom…the outdoors.  I fancied myself a still-hunter, and I’ve covered miles and miles of public land, usually with my longbow, one quiet step at a time.  Of course, the key is to see the deer before they see you, which has been my downfall.  Time after time, a bedded deer I never saw went bounding away from well within bow range.

The more time I spent in the woods though, the more I learned about deer and deer sign, and the better I became at finding rubs and scrapes, identifying feeding and bedding areas, and recognizing natural funnels.  So I eventually experimented with the various ambush hunting styles; setting up tree stands and ground blinds in high traffic areas, but this has also failed to produce for me so far.  In fact, the only deer I’ve taken was a young six-pointer with a 12 gauge slug, while float-hunting through public land.  

The turning point for me as a hunter, and fisherman, was finding a mentor.  John Skinner, a good friend and fellow teacher at the school where I work, is an avid and very experienced outdoorsman.  I’ve learned more from first-hand hunting and fishing trips with him, then I have from all of the other learning sources combined.  Last year John introduced me to an area of public land that he’s hunted on for years.  He told me he’s never spent a morning in that area without seeing deer, and he’s taken a few out of there himself.  It’s in this area where I found the mystical oak tree, almost took my first deer, and did make my first longbow kill.
After scouting the area, I found a spot among mature oaks where two well-used deer runs converged and disappeared into a thick, grassy, marsh area.  A large oak had fallen and was lying right alongside another huge, old oak tree, which created a nice semi-concealed area to sit in, which was about 15 yards from each deer run.  I stacked branches in a semi-circle in front of me to create a very natural looking ground blind, and in just one hunting season, some of my most memorable hunting moments took place in that spot.

First came the squirrels.  At one point, on a sunny October afternoon, there were too many gray and fox squirrels running around to keep track of.  I had never seen so many squirrels concentrated in the wild before.  They were running up and down every tree, and were frolicking through the leaves all around me.  I remember laughing and thinking this was surreal.  I had a couple misses at around 15 yards, but then, as if this bounty was not enough of a small game hunters dream, I had one practically handed to me on a silver platter.  A nice grey squirrel ran along the large fallen oak right behind my head, and then up another tree 10 feet away.  I stood up and angled towards him without spooking him, and as I did he had already grabbed an acorn and was running back down the tree.  He hopped onto the fallen oak and ran right back towards me.  Just as he got in front of me, he jumped up onto a smaller branch at my eye level, sat down, and started eating.  He was slightly angled towards me, so I was staring at his shiny black eye.  I knew with as skittish as squirrels are, I would never be able to draw my bow.  To my amazement, I slowly came to full draw without any reaction from him.  I almost felt guilty taking the shot…almost.  It truly seemed like a gift.  I had my first bow kill, a good meal, and I was lovin' this area.

Next came the grouse.  The next morning, as I’m sitting there listening and watching for deer, as if appearing out of nowhere, I see a grouse 10 yards away walking directly at me.  At 5 yards away he hopped up on a small fallen tree and stopped. With this experience, the recent close-quarters squirrel, and seeing deer in the vicinity consistently, I was truly starting to believe I was in a charmed sweet spot.  The grouse appeared to see me and just watched curiously as I started to draw my bow.  But as I nearly came to full draw he hopped down and continued towards me, so I let up a bit.  As confident as I was with the shot, I knew a few more feet would put him pretty much into the “sure thing” category.  At three yards he slowly turned from my direction and I knew I’d better take him.  Everything felt perfect as I released, and the bird took off.  I knew I made the perfect shot and I stood up and watched him, expecting him to fall to the ground at any moment.  As he flew out of sight over the horizon, it was obvious that moment would never come.  In disbelief, I looked down to see where my arrow was in the ground, but I was stunned! I saw my arrow suspended horizontally in front of me a few feet off the ground.  It looked as though time was frozen just as I released my arrow and it was stuck in mid-air.  Talk about mystical.  Now I can only imagine what you’re thinking, but that is what I saw.  It was an extremely unnatural perception that, fortunately, only last a fraction of a second as I continued to tilt my head down.  I was quickly grounded back into reality as I noticed...I shot my blind!  My arrow had split the top branch of my blind and traveled all the way through to the nock, leaving 28" of arrow sticking straight out in the air.  I had concentrated on the grouse so hard, and he came so close, I hadn't realized how far down I had angled my bow and I never saw the branch.  Even so, it was great to watch the grouse come in that close.  It was another unforgettable outdoor experience, and another one added to that long "lesson learned" list.

Finally came the deer.  It was a cold, late October morning, and I was sitting next to my giant oak well before daylight.  As the sun began to rise, the open sky over the marsh was full of beautiful color. Shortly after that, the sandhill cranes started flying over the area cackling, and the forest was waking up.  By 8:00a.m. I had already had a raccoon and a turkey walk past my blind, and as always there was an abundance of squirrels running around.  I quickly exchanged my broadhead arrow for a judo pointed, flu-flu arrow as one particular squirrel was coming down a nearby tree, but that's when I heard what I had really been waiting for, what sounded like the footfalls of a deer.  In what was a very fine balance between quickly and slowly, I was able to switch arrows, and I vowed not to get caught off guard like that again.  While deer hunting, I will keep an arrow with a broadhead nocked at all times, and if small game presents a safe shot, it gets a broadhead.

In no time at all after first hearing the steps, a very small doe appeared to my right and was walking right in front of me towards one of my cleared shooting lanes.  She wasn't on the deer run, but was about 20 yards away from me, right along the edge of the marsh.  As much as I wanted to take a deer with my longbow, I thought she was just way too small; she looked like a yearling.  But after she took a couple more steps out of my shooting lane, I heard more footfalls coming from the same direction, as well as soft grunting.  It was so soft I figured it was probably a doe grunt, but moments later a buck emerged following right behind the doe.  He had a wide rack, but I never had an opportunity to count the number of points.  I was already concentrating on a spot behind his front leg, and as he approached my shooting lane I came to full draw...and he stopped!  He wasn't alarmed.  In fact, he turned his head and nibbled an itch on his side.  I backed off to about half-draw and waited for what seem like an eternity for him to take another couple steps for a clear shot.  

Visually, the scene was stunning.  Because the open marshy area was behind the doe and buck, they were backlit.  They almost appeared to glow, and I could see every fine hair of their contours silhouetted in the bright light.  Their foggy breaths were also highlighted in the strong light.  The scene didn't last long however.  Not too long after stopping, the buck suddenly looked up in my direction, and moments later started back towards the marsh, spooking the doe as well.  I grunted and he paused and looked back for a second before bounding off and disappearing into the marsh.  I don't think I moved or made any noise, but he may have smelled me or noticed the glare of my longbow's glass backing.  Although that hunt didn't end with a filled tag, it was one I'll never forget.  It was the first time that a scene unfolded before my eyes that reminded me of situations I've seen on those Saturday hunting shows hundreds of times.  I’m amazed at how vividly my hunting experiences are etched into my mind.  I can visualize those experiences as clearly as when they first happened every time I think about them.  

So, like I said at the start, it has all started to come together for me.  I had scouted that whole area and chose the spot for my ground blind based on my knowledge and personal experiences hunting deer.  I feel like I actually know what I'm doing in the woods now.  I've grown very fond of that old oak tree, and I cherish the time I've spent under its branches.  I’m thankful for the almost mystical abundance of wildlife in that area, and all of the hunting opportunities that have been presented to me there.  Last year, I came closer than I ever have to taking a deer with my longbow, and I’m confident that it’s finally going to happen next season.  Of course, I feel that way about every upcoming season.  Finally, I'm happy to share with you the location of my little hunting paradise; it's in Southeast Michigan  ;)

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